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Year : 2016  |  Volume : 9  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 465-467

Ventilator dysfunction: role of graphics in detection

Department of Anaesthesiology and Critical Care, Mahatma Gandhi Medical College and Research Institute, Sri Balaji Vidyapeeth University, Pillayarkuppam, Puducherry, India

Date of Submission17-Sep-2015
Date of Acceptance28-Jan-2016
Date of Web Publication31-Aug-2016

Correspondence Address:
Srinivasan Parthasarathy
Department of Anaesthesiology and Critical Care, Mahatma Gandhi Medical College and Research Institute, Sri Balaji Vidyapeeth University, Pillayarkuppam, Puducherry - 607 402
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/1687-7934.189103

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Analysis of ventilator graphics is useful in a few situations for detecting ventilator dysfunction. However, there is a paucity of literature as to what sort of dysfunctions can be detected. We report two cases in which the graphics enabled us to identify ventilator dysfunction in patients who were on mechanical ventilation. Analysing the graphics and not looking at numbers alone enabled us to take timely corrective actions, thereby preventing morbidity. Both patients ultimately achieved a complete recovery.

Keywords: dysfunction, expiratory flow sensor, graphics, ventilator

How to cite this article:
Sripriya R, Parthasarathy S, Ravishankar M. Ventilator dysfunction: role of graphics in detection. Ain-Shams J Anaesthesiol 2016;9:465-7

How to cite this URL:
Sripriya R, Parthasarathy S, Ravishankar M. Ventilator dysfunction: role of graphics in detection. Ain-Shams J Anaesthesiol [serial online] 2016 [cited 2021 Oct 17];9:465-7. Available from:

  Introduction Top

When using ventilators, it is preferable to use those with graphical display of pressure, flow and volume waveforms rather than mere numbers. Graphical display of data provides information on patient's lung mechanics and the patient–ventilator interaction, which can help us to adjust the ventilator settings to synchronize with the patient's needs [1],[2]. In the following two cases, graphics enabled us to identify ventilator dysfunction.

  Case report 1 Top

A 55-year-old man weighing 65 kg who underwent emergency colostomy was shifted to the ICU for mechanical ventilation in view of abdominal distension and unstable hemodynamics. He was connected to a TEAMA EXTENDXT (Air Liquide Medical Systems, France) ventilator in pressure-controlled ventilation (PCV) mode after complete ‘self-tests’. After 6 h, when the patient was able to adequately trigger the ventilator, the mode was changed to synchronized intermittent mandatory ventilation with pressure support (PSIMV–PSV). The ventilator settings were as follows: fraction of inspired oxygen concentration (FiO2), 0.35; peak inspiratory pressure (PIP), 10 cmH2O; frequency (f), 14/min; inspiratory time (TI), 1.3 s; positive end-expiratory pressure (PEEP), 5 cmH2O; and pressure support, 10 cmH2O. Ventilation was continued as the patient needed volume resuscitation and inotropes for 24 h. No problem with ventilation was identified as there were no alarms and the patient's saturation/arterial blood gas values were within normal limits.

The next day the patient looked distressed and was intermittently gasping for air. A low tidal volume (TV) reading was noted in the measured ventilation parameter window during a few breaths [Figure 1]. The pressure support set for spontaneous breaths was checked. It was observed to be 10, which was same as the PIP for PCV breaths. Hence, it did not explain for the discrepancy observed in the TV.
Figure 1 Ventilator interface showing the set parameters and the pressure–time and flow–time waveforms. The annotated pressure waveform does not have a corresponding flow. The expired tidal volume for this breath is 35 ml, and the inspired tidal volume for the subsequent breath is 714 ml.

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On studying the ventilator pressure and flow waveforms, it was observed that a few pressure waveforms in between were not generating a corresponding flow [Figure 1]. The peak pressure during these ‘no flow’ breaths was about 23 cmH2O, which was much higher than the set PIP + PEEP. The gasps coincided with the ‘no flow’ breaths. The breaths were 650–700 ml tidal volume was delivered, recorded a peak pressure of 14 cmH2O which was the set pressure. These breaths displayed normal flow waveform.

The patient was disconnected from the ventilator and breaths were assisted using Bain's circuit until alternative ventilator was arranged. During this period, the patient was breathing normally without gasps. A repeat self-test of the original ventilator resolved the problem and it was connected back. The patient required another 20 days of ICU management before he could be transferred to a low-dependency unit and discharged later.

  Case report 2 Top

A 50-year-old man weighing 75 kg with the diagnosis of sepsis was being ventilated with GE Engstörm Carestation (Datex-Ohmeda Inc.) on PCV mode. On the third day, he was on PCV mode with a FiO2 of 0.40, PIP of 17 cmH2O, PEEP of 5 cmH2O, f of 12/min, and TI of 1.6 s. The ventilator displayed an air leak alarm. The ventilator numerical data were reviewed. The expiratory TV was observed to be about 560 ml. The graphics were studied. The volume–time graph was recording a high inspiratory volume, with the scale automatically adjusted to 1800 ml [Figure 2]. Furthermore, it showed a vertical fall in the expiratory segment with a gross difference between inspiratory and expiratory volumes. We checked for a possible leak in one of the connections between the ventilator and the patient. The endotracheal tube cuff, circuit, and the catheter mount were checked, but no leak was identified. The expiratory flow waveform showed a low peak expiratory flow and a sustained slow flow-out, indicating an obstruction [Figure 2].
Figure 2 Ventilator interface displaying the set parameters, delivered volume and the ventilator graphics. The volume–time graph scale is autoadjusted to 1800 ml. Inspired tidal volume of about 1200 ml can been seen in the inspiratory segment of the Vt graph and a steep fall in the expiratory segment of the graph, suggesting a leak.

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As no obstruction was found in the expiratory tubing, a malfunctioning expiratory valve was suspected and was checked after connecting the patient to an alternate source of ventilation. It revealed expiratory flow sensor check failure. Replacing the sensor rectified the problem. It was observed that, even with a PIP of 13 cmH2O, he was generating a TV of nearly 700 ml, and a peak expiratory flow of about 40 l was noted on the flow–time graph [Figure 3]. The PIP could be decreased to 10 cmH2O for an adequate TV.
Figure 3 Ventilator data after replacement of the expiratory flow sensor. Peak inspiratory pressure (PIP) of 11 could deliver an expiratory tidal volume (TV) of 711 ml.

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  Discussion Top

Dysfunction of the machine is one of the causes of morbidity to critically ill patients. Prielipp et al. [3], Krishna Kumar et al. [4], and Lowery [5] have reported incidents of morbidities due to ventilator dysfunction. If not identified earlier, this could progress to a true patient problem.

Ventilator preuse tests check the integrity and function of internal components (electronics and pneumatics) and in-built alarm systems. There is no specific protocol for repeating these tests when patients are on prolonged ventilatory support. Tests are repeated only if there is a suspicion of problem with ventilator, which depends purely on the judgement of the intensivist. Any deterioration in lung mechanics and a change in ventilator parameters are quite often required in an ICU patient as a consequence of the disease process itself. It is crucial that, in such times, ventilator-related problems have to be differentiated from patient-related problems.

In case 1, the ventilator graphics alone helped us to diagnose the problem and take appropriate initiatives. A normal arterial blood gas suggested that the patient's minute ventilation had been adequate during this period. Changes in lung compliance or airway resistance would have affected all breaths in a similar manner. In our case, adequate TV was being achieved in a few breaths, ruling out any acute changes in lung compliance or airway resistance. Biting of the tube can cause an increase in pressure and a decrease in flow. The pressure waveform in that case would have peaked and raised a high pressure alarm. Moreover, the contour of the pressure waveform would be distorted and the duration of breath not maintained. The corresponding flow waveform would have registered a flow, followed by an abrupt discontinuation of flow. Block of the endotracheal tube with secretions can also produce a high airway pressure and a decrease in flow, but it would have affected all breaths in a similar manner. Hence, it was diagnosed to be a purely ventilator-related problem. After the ventilator was turned off and a self-test performed during the next power-up state, as advised by the service engineer, the problem was rectified.

In case 2, the patient was on PC-IMV mode. The adjustment of PIP is made based on the expired TV that the machine displays. On this basis, we had adjusted a PIP of 17 to deliver about 550 ml of TV. Reconnecting the patient after rectifying the problem enabled us to ventilate the patient with pressure support of as less as 10 cmH2O. If not for timely recognition of abnormal graphical display in the presence of normal values, a misdiagnosis of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) could have been made.

Retrospectively, we realized that the failure of the expiratory flow sensor had misguided us to set pressures that had delivered inspired TV in the range of 1200 ml, as seen in the graphics. GE Engstörm Carestation does not display the inspired TV value. Had the problem been left unidentified, the high volume would have resulted in volutrauma. The deterioration in lung condition would have been assumed to be a consequence of sepsis and ARDS rather than ventilator induced lung injury (VILI). In this case, mucus clogging of the expiratory flow sensor had resulted in its malfunction. Some ventilators have the feature of displaying both inspiratory and expiratory TVs even on PCV mode, which is definitely advantageous to identify such problems.

In both cases, graphics alone had helped us to identify the problem. The breath-to-breath information provided by these graphics has to be interpreted and utilized for optimal respiratory care of the ventilated patient.

Whenever a change in ventilator parameters is required for a patient who is on ventilator, a systematic approach is a must during troubleshooting. Ventilator-related problems should be differentiated from patient-related problems. When in doubt, a test lung can be used to determine whether the issue is related to the patient or a true ventilator malfunction. When ventilator dysfunction is suspected, the clinician should possess the knowledge to troubleshoot the cause. Ventilator-related problems could be inability to generate a TV, the generated TV not reaching the patient, or the TV reaching the patient not being properly measured, the last being our case. The volume–time graph enables us to approximately know the inspired TV in ventilators, which display only the expired TV. It is important to observe the pressure–time, flow–time and TV graphs simultaneously, so that any problem detected in one of the graphs can be easily correlated with corresponding changes in other graphs, which substantiates the findings.

  Conclusion Top

Analysing the graphic display could provide clues in certain ventilator-associated problems than looking at mere numbers alone. An early diagnosis and correction of ventilator dysfunction could decrease morbidity in selected cases.

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Nilsestuen JO, Hargett KD. Using ventilator graphics to identify patient-ventilator asynchrony. Respir Care 2005; 50:202– 232.  Back to cited text no. 1
Georgopoulos D, Prinianakis G, Kondili E. Bedside waveforms interpretation as a tool to identify patient– ventilator asynchronies. Intensive Care Med 2006; 32:34– 47.  Back to cited text no. 2
Prielipp RC,Lewis K, Morell RC. Ventilator failure in the ICU: Déjà Vu all over again. Available at: [Last accessed on 2013 May 23].  Back to cited text no. 3
Krishna Kumar BR, Ravi M, Dinesh K, Nanda A. Ventilator malfunction (letter). J Anaesth Clin Pharmacol 2011; 27:576.  Back to cited text no. 4
Lowery WS.Ventilator-disconnect and death: a case study and a safety device. Respir Care 2010; 55:774– 776.  Back to cited text no. 5


  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3]


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